Brewery “lockdown”: Pandering to religious bigots and petty politicians

Mariam Mokhtar

ALCOHOL consumption is not the problem but politicians who trample on the rights of the non-Malays and non-Muslims are. The more Perikatan Nasional (Perikatan) oppresses the people, the more the rakyat will rise up.

Perikatan probably wants to force breweries and liquor outlets to eventually close. No wonder foreign investors steer clear of Malaysia, especially with clueless conservative clerics who are wannabe politicians, and politicians who are wannabe clerics, running the Government. They want to ram the Islamic State agenda down our throats.

The Sarawakians are still celebrating Hari Gawai. With the lockdown, the non-Malays are not able to have happy hour with their friends in the pub, but will have a quiet drink at home, to unwind. Ditto to the expatriate community.

With breweries being forced to stop operations, this will create a shortage of alcohol and drive prices up. Perhaps, this is Perikatan’s intention. Prices of many goods are already increasing. Why create more hardship for the non-Malays and non-Muslims?

Does the National Security Council (NSC) know anything at all about supply and demand? More importantly, does it know anything at all about the alcohol trade? All that the NSC know is that alcohol is haram. When will they start to look into the bigger picture and widen their knowledge?

In case one is wondering, the brewing industry is not just about making alcohol, a product considered haram by Muslims. Breweries provide jobs, not just in the brewery but also in ancillary companies.

The beer companies pay much needed tax which helps pay for essential public services.

Building a brewery is not an easy feat and its construction will have contributed to the local construction industry. Moreover, the company will be paying hefty annual permits to operate.

A small change in the brewing industry will be amplified and produce large effects in this very complex industry.

So, why did the NSC cave in to the demands by the religious bigots and political attention seekers, and order breweries to cease operations?

The reason given was that during the “total lockdown”, alcoholic beverages are not considered “basic necessities”.

Does the NSC realise that the economy is in a freefall, industries are struggling to cope and the nation could do with some businesses which can continue to operate safely?

Brewery provide jobs, economic opportunities

Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) youth leader, Kevin Shawn Gomez questioned the Government’s decision to allow the Carlsberg Brewery to continue operation during the total lockdown, as did Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Are they desperate to be in the political limelight and pander to the religious bigots? Did these men stop to think about the economy, or the hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on these industries?

No-one is saying that lives and people’s health should be put at risk, but with the right precautions and strict adherence to the standard operating procedure (SOP) in the breweries, there is no reason why these industries should cease operations.

Care home workers, medical staff and those in the electrical, water supply, telecommunications, transport, food distribution industries and security services are managing themselves pretty well.

Coronavirus will kill many people but once the disease is under relative control, the millions of unemployed people, coupled with businesses being forced to close, will kill even more people than the disease itself. People need jobs to pay for food, rent, healthcare and basic needs. The Treasury needs companies to prop up the economy.

These are difficult economic times, and if companies can operate under the strictest of conditions, why not?

The brewing industry is not just about the scores of thousands employed in the ancillary industries, such as the bottling companies, the aluminium can-making factories, the warehouses, the refrigeration companies, nitrogen manufacturers, chemical companies and waste control operators.

Downstream, there are many companies to which the brewery supplies, like the supermarkets, grocery stores, off-licences, pubs, bistros, restaurants, airlines, duty-free shops, cruise ships and hotels. These are mostly in the tourism, hospitality and export industries.

The ancillary trade also employs thousands of people; from drivers, publicans, caterers, party planners, airline crew, duty free staff, promoters, guest relation officers and warehouse operators. Don’t forget that all these industries, including the brewery, also employ cleaners and office staff.

Upstream operations in the brewery includes the import of grain and hops. If production is stopped or is haphazard, our port workers and container ships, and supply distribution network trade will also suffer.

Beer delivery vans and lorries need petrol, they pay tolls, licenses and permits to operate.

Brewing is not just about making alcohol. It represents a diverse section of the economy.

Today, beer making is a fully automated, closed fermentation process and the workforce is small. When a brewery is told to stop operating, the company will probably incur heavy losses because once a fermentation process starts, it must go to completion.

We may not know the exact processes involved, but it stands to reason that stopping operations halfway will mean the equipment must be cleaned and sanitised, to be ready for the next time it starts producing beer. The company will have to bear all this waste. Not knowing when it may resume operations, means that storing the raw materials is also problematic.

And who decides what is a “basic necessity”? One man’s preference may be another person’s dislike.

Are cigarettes a basic necessity? The NSC thinks so. Stopping cigarette production will create a shortage, probably drive the cost up, and create an uproar. The NSC wants to avoid this at all cost because they fear the Malays may kick them out of office in the next general election.

What about sugary drinks? Malaysians are some of the most obese people in Asia and the number of diabetics is also alarmingly high. Shouldn’t we stop the production of sugary drinks, fast food, food with a high salt content and processed foods?

A Government which panders to the whims of the bigots in society and Parliament will not attract foreign direct investments. As it is, many foreign investors have found our neighbours to be a more attractive and conducive place to do business.

Opening a multi-million-ringgit factory, or brewery, is not a small undertaking. It needs constancy and a stable Government. In Malaysia, we do not have a stable Government.

Brewing is not just about providing a much-needed thirst quencher. It is also about providing jobs, which during this coronavirus pandemic, are in very short supply and face an uncertain future.